5 Stellar Volunteer Placements in Iceland

by Laura Jelich

Icelanders are a creative and close-knit bunch, living on a land that boasts the largest glacier in Europe, the beautiful Aurora Borealis, numerous formidable volcanoes, and yes, surprisingly mild temperatures. No matter how you choose to volunteer abroad in Iceland, you won’t fail to notice the colorful and community-oriented spirit that rests at the core of locals, and the pride they take in their one-of-a-kind landscape. Volunteers who enjoy being part of a team, being pushed outside their comfort zone, and eating lots and lots of fish will be guaranteed a once-in-a-lifetime experience volunteering abroad in any of the following five stellar volunteer placements in Iceland.

Gulfoss, Iceland

Gulfoss, Iceland

1. Festival Assistance

Dating all the way back to their ancient saga days, Icelanders have always known for their imaginative and enterprising spirit. Whether a chosen career or creative outlet, writing, composing, designing, acting, painting and sculpting all play significant roles in the lives of Iceland natives. Not to mention, the naturally breathtaking and all-surrounding landscape of Iceland set’s one of the most pristine stages in the world. Between the numerous sustainability, film, music, and themed festivals that take place in Iceland each year, volunteers will have more placement opportunities than they can count!

Although festivals occur year-round, volunteers that have a specific festival in mind may want to check dates ahead of time and plan their volunteer program in Iceland accordingly. The length of volunteer programs in Iceland focused on festival work is generally just a couple weeks or so, since the work load coincides with the specific festival taking place and housing is almost always in the form of group living accommodations. Duties and volunteer activities will likewise vary based upon the festival you choose to volunteer on.

Reykjavík, Iceland

Reykjavík, Iceland

Saga Festival, for example, takes place on a farm and focuses on sustainability and community connection through music, art and food. On the other hand, independent and up-and-coming films and filmmakers from around the globe are featured during the eleven-day-long Reykjavik International Film Festival, while live bands and top DJs from all over the world perform alongside Iceland’s biggest names at Iceland Airwaves Music Festival.

Individuals who volunteer in festival prep in Iceland may be tasked with:

  • Building, design, and construction of festival structures and stages
  • Aid in the installation of festival exhibitions
  • Posting and handing out promotional material
  • Picking up international guests from the airport
  • Preparing venues and selling tickets
  • Helping with security and maintaining cleanliness of grounds

2. Trail Building

There’s not much better than living off the land, hiking infamous trails, and playing a vital role in sustaining Iceland’s incredible natural wonders. With three national parks and endless lush terrain, Iceland offers countless locations for volunteer work in trail management from one end of the country to the other. Some trail building volunteer programs in Iceland offer the chance for volunteers to travel Iceland while working on trail and conservation tasks for a few months, heading to a new location every one or two weeks. Other programs keep volunteers stationed in a set location, seeing specific projects through to completion (or nearly) and taking time to get to know the surrounding landscape.

While experience is not always necessary, physical fitness is almost always a must to join a trail team in Iceland. Accommodation while working in parks, reserves, and remote wilderness across Iceland usually involves camping and other rustic means of housing. Volunteers should take care to check if the necessary equipment is provided in-country or should be brought along.

Duties and activities of trail team volunteers in Iceland may include:

  • Boardwalk, bridge, and step construction 
  • Resurfacing trails from lava-caused erosion
  • Improving drainage
  • Placing way-makers
  • Removing invasive plant species
  • GPS trail mapping and data collection
Iceland cuisine

3. Farming

Foodies passionate about sustainability will fit right in volunteering abroad on the farms of Iceland. Only one percent of the land is currently being cultivated in Iceland, a process which is made even more difficult by the mighty volcanoes, geysers, and glaciers that inhabit this mountainous country. Volunteers will learn to differentiate between “want” and “need” and debate environmental hot-button issues while living and volunteering an organic farm in Iceland.

Farming volunteer programs in Iceland can last anywhere from a couple weeks to several months, and typically feature group housing. Natural pastures and practices offer various placements for volunteers with a sweet-tooth, soft spot for animals, or passion for the eco-lifestyle.

Daily duties of volunteers working on farms in Iceland may include the following:

  • Assist with the preparation for and birth of new baby animals
  • Build animal shelters and pens from recycled or repurposed materials
  • Grow organic greens and herbs in greenhouses and gardens
  • Participate in art workshops to decorate the farm and surrounding areas
  • Visit recycling centers or sustainable energy power plants (such as geothermal)

4. Dog Sledding

Volunteer abroad with a professional dog sledding kennel by joining a dog sledding tour across Iceland. Tours typically run all year long, so volunteers may mush through snowy glaciers the majority of the year or traverse drier highlands in the fall with the additional help of wheels. Volunteers will feel at one with nature as they chase the northern lights behind a sled of dogs and explore the incredible Icelandic scenery. 

During these three to twelve month long adventures, volunteers will most often stay in rustic conditions alongside the dogs. Fit, healthy, and animal-loving volunteers can expect to perform the following tasks while volunteering abroad as a dog sled musher: 

  • Dog care and training 
  • Sled building
  • Kennel and equipment maintenance
Whale leftover

Whale leftover

5. Photography

Single images can capture a world of meaning, and those that volunteer abroad in Iceland in a photography placement will learn to tell a story, represent an idea, or make a point based upon the assigned topics given. Topics will explore various global issues, including the environment, peace, and intercultural understanding. Photography placements exist throughout Iceland, allowing volunteers to choose a date and destination that works best with their interests and schedule.

Many photography volunteer placements in Iceland require that volunteers bring their own photography equipment, although a generic digital camera will generally suffice. Volunteer work outside of taking photographers often coincides with photography placements as well, such as website or marketing assistance.

Expected volunteer activities may include the following:

  • Photograph locals to draw attention to issues and deliver messages
  • Share and learn photography skills as well as editing techniques 
  • Submit photographs to be selected for a final exhibit
  • Assist in putting together the final exhibit
  • Community projects including beautifying gardens or working in recycling systems

Although these five stellar volunteer placements in Iceland may seem a bit off the deep end, where else can you have an experience like it? So, why not just jump in? Whether your passions lie in music and art, nature and animals, or somewhere in between, volunteering abroad in Iceland will be an experience you won’t soon forget.